In spite of stumbling out of the gate, Rags to Riches won the battle of the sexes Saturday in the $1 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I), winning a furious stretch duel with Preakness Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) winner Curlin.
The pace of the 1 1/2-mile race was extremely slow but that did not distract from the drama of the final leg of the Triple Crown. Rags to Riches came on the outside out of the turn under John Velazquez, caught Curlin and Robby Albarado and proved best in a stirring stretch run.
Rags to Riches became only the third filly to win the Belmont and the first since 1905. She also gave trainer Todd Pletcher his first win in a Triple Crown race in his 29th try.
“It is a special feeling and the fact a filly had not won the race in so long, is a credit to how special she is,” Pletcher said.
Tiago, ridden by Mike Smith, came on to get third over Hard Spun, followed by C P West, Imawildandrazyguy and Slew’s Tizzy.
C P West made the lead out of the gate while Velazquez had to pick Rags to Riches up after she went to her knees from the outside spot in the seven-horse field. Slew’s Tizzy took up the second spot and Curlin was to the inside of Hard Spun. They went a slow quarter in :24.74 and a half in :50.14.
The top two kept slowing the pace on the front end but Hard Spun eased up on the leaders with Curlin as they went six furlongs in 1:15.32. The leaders were well off the rail and Velazquez had Rags to Riches comfortably sitting six wide all the way down the backside and through the turn.
As they made the move toward the stretch, there were four horses across the track. Curlin moved up and collared C P West, with Hard Spun to his outside and Rags to Riches on the far outside.
They went a mile in 1:40.23 as Rags to Riches took the lead at the quarter pole. It was a two-horse race down the stretch, the daughter of A.P. Indywinning the race by a neck in 2:28 3/5. They ran the last quarter in :23.83.
When she stumbled coming out of the gate, Velazquez said “my heart stopped. The first thing you think is ‘I hope she doesn’t get hurt’ and the second thing is ‘I hope she doesn’t pull a shoe. It was a good thing the race was a mile and a half. She got herself together. She was wide and running comfortably.”
The jockey, who was winning his first Triple Crown event, said in the turn, “When I saw Curlin go to the inside I knew it was my turn to move.”
Rags to Riches was bred in Kentucky by Stanley Gumberg’s Skara Glen Stable and purchased at the 2005 Keeneland September sale for $1.9 million. She races for Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
Rags to Riches paid $10.60, $4.40, and $3.20 while Curlin returned $3 and $3.30. Tiago paid $3.70 to show.
It was the first time Velazquez had ridden Rags to Riches, who in her previous race won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). Her regular rider, Garrett Gomez, committed to Hard Spun when it appeared the filly might not run. And, Velazquez had taken the mount on Slew’s Tizzy.
Trainer Greg Fox let Velazquez off to ride Rags to Riches and the jockey, who is based in New York, won his first Belmont.
Only two fillies had previously won the Belmont, Ruthless in the first running in 1867 and Tanya in 1905. Nineteen other fillies had contested the Belmont.
Rags to Riches lost her first start, her only outing at two. She returned with a vengeance, breaking her maiden in early January at Santa Anita, the first time Pletcher had sent a string to California. She won the Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) in eye-catching style after an extremely wide trip in February and then annexed the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) in April.
Pletcher opted to run her in the Kentucky Oaks while some suggested she could compete in the Derby. She won the race by an easy 4 1/4 lengths.
After that, Pletcher was asked if he would consider running her against colts, but he deferred a decision about the Belmont. He did not decide to run until the week of the race.
“If you have a trainer, I’ve always believed you should let the trainer make the decision on where to run,” Tabor said. “I consulted with Todd and Derrick but the decision was Todd’s.
“He was happy with how he felt about her.”
His decision was made easier by the fact Street Sense, who won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and was beaten a neck by Curlin in the Preakness, decided to pass the Belmont.
Curlin and Hard Spun both competed in all three races of the Triple Crown. Curlin was third in the Derby, won the Preakness, and finished second in the Belmont. Hard Spun finished second in the Derby, third in the Preakness, and fourth in the Belmont.
Asked if Rags to Riches might take on males again, Tabor said, “it is more than possible.”
After Rags to Riches won for the fifth time in six starts and increased her earnings to $1,292,528, Pletcher agreed.
“We might go the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama or the Haskell and Travers (all gr. I),” Pletcher said.(Chart, Equibase)